The World’s Fair transformed Spokane’s downtown 50 years ago

In 1974, Spokane was the host of Expo ’74, a world’s fair that drew millions of visitors from all over the world. The fair was the result of years of hard work and planning by Spokane leaders, who sought advice from Seattle, which had hosted a similar event in 1962. After being advised to pursue the idea of a fair, the leaders managed to secure pledges of $1.3 million in start-up funds, primarily from Spokane businesses. Additionally, the Washington Legislature allocated nearly $12 million in state tax dollars to construct the Washington State Pavilion, which later became the Spokane Opera House and Convention Center.

The City Council implemented a controversial business and occupation tax that raised $5.7 million to remove the railroad tracks and prepare the fair site for Expo ’74. President Richard M. Nixon officially endorsed the event in October 1971, after Spokane received unanimous approval as an official “special exposition” from Paris’ Bureau of International Expositions.

The success of Expo ’74 was due in large part to Washington’s influential Congressional delegation, including Senators Henry “Scoop” Jackson and Warren Magnuson, and Representative Thomas Foley. They secured an $11.5 million appropriation to construct the U.S. Pavilion and managed to persuade Spokane’s three railroads – Union Pacific, Milwaukee Road, and Burlington Northern – to relocate their tracks away from downtown Spokane for free. This move allowed them to consolidate their routes while also allowing space for Expo ’74 on downtown land worth many millions of dollars.

Cole focused on attracting countries to participate in the fair by securing commitments from numerous nations such as Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Canada

By Samantha Johnson

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